Saturday, February 13, 2021

Bench helps Paladins hammer Western

Freshman Jonny Lawrence had 11 points off the bench in Furman's 88-70
win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Saturday was the 66th anniversary of Furman legend Frank Selvy's 100-point game. For a while, it appeared the Paladins were going to celebrate with a triple-digit game of their own. While they didn't get to 100, what they did get was their most complete game in Southern Conference play.

Eleven different Paladins scored, including four in double figures, as Furman dominated Western Carolina, 88-70, at Timmons Arena. Furman used a 26-4 run in the first half to take a commanding lead that was never threatened. After shooting 68 percent from the floor in the second half at Cullowhee a couple of weeks ago, the Paladins shot 63.6 percent in Saturday's opening half to take a 24-point lead at the break.

"I thought we were complete on both ends. ... We'd been playing pretty hard defensively. Our effort has been really good the past few games. Today, it was really about getting back to playing connected offense," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I thought we did that, especially in the first half. That's one of our best halves of offensive basketball in a while.

"We had 15 assists and two turnovers in the first half, and was 10-for-20 from three. It's just funny how when you get ball movement like we did, you usually make shots."

While no lead seems comfortable in Southern Conference play, Saturday's allowed for plenty of Paladins (13-7, 7-4) to contribute and the bench responded with 44 points. That's the most for Furman in a SoCon game since scoring 46 in a 107-67 win over The Citadel three years ago. Ten Paladins played at least 13 minutes Saturday, but none played more than 26.

It wasn't just a matter of padding the lead for those bench players though. They were a huge part of building that big lead. Furman trailed 9-2 early before Noah Gurley hit a three and Clay Mounce hit two in a row. After Mounce's second three tied the game at 11-11, Furman bench players accounted for the Paladins' next 12 points.

That part of the run started on a dunk by Jalen Slawson, who had another big game off the bench. Jaylon Pugh tipped a Western pass, gathered the steal, then pulled and popped a 3-pointer. Freshman Jonny Lawrence, who'd logged 23 minutes and scored two points in SoCon play this year entering Saturday, followed with back-to-back threes both off assists from Slawson. Lawrence then found Colin Kenney for a layup that pushed Furman's lead to 23-13.

"Slaw brings all that experience off the bench, which is a major advantage. It speaks to his maturity too, because not everybody would take that the right way. His energy and attitude has been great and it's rubbed off on everybody," Gurley said. "With (freshman) Garrett (Hien) starting, it's just going to help him down the road in his career. He's getting a better understanding of the intensity of the game.

"What y'all saw Jonny do today is what he does to us in practice every day - straight threes letting them rain."

Gurley capped the 26-4 run on a layup that gave Furman a 28-13 lead at the 10:29 mark. Slawson made it a 25-point game with a 3-pointer late in the first half before Gurley's dunk with 30 seconds left staked the Paladins to a 55-31 advantage at the break. It was the second-most points scored in the first half as Furman had 56 in the first half against S.C. State.

The Paladins had eight fouls and two buckets over the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second half, but the Catamounts (9-12, 2-10) never cut the lead under 20 until the final two minutes. Kenney's 3-pointer helped start a 14-2 run as Furman took its biggest lead at 74-42 with 10:25 left.

"I think people are starting to see that we do have depth and it's getting better," Richey said. "Most of them are freshman. Now that we've gotten them some game reps, you can see their confidence coming. They're finding ways to contribute and to stick to their role. ... We're just trying to get the best version of this team as we go down the stretch."

Gurley finished with 16 points - on 7-of-8 shooting - and posted eight rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. Slawson also scored 16 and grabbed six rebounds. Mounce had 14 points and Lawrence scored 11. Furman had 20 assists and matched its season low with seven turnovers, while forcing 18. That helped the Paladins enjoy a 27-7 advantage in points off turnovers.

"I spent some time with Noah yesterday after practice, just wanting to relax him. He's too good of a player to be out here pressing. He's just got to let the game come to him a little bit," Richey said. "He did a great job of that today. When they brought two (defenders), he threw out and when they didn't bring two, he went and scored. ... He got 16 points tonight on eight shots, which is incredibly efficient. He shot more twos than threes, which I always like for him. He took good threes and made two of them (out of three attempts).

"I was messing with Slaw. I told him that if he keeps having 16 (points) and six (rebounds), we're going to keep bringing him off the bench. He's had three really good games there though and as they say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' I couldn't be more proud of his effort."

Furman is next scheduled to host Samford on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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